HE to hold meeting on IB+O bridge

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Wilberforce Service Centre co-owner Todd Watling told Highlands East council Aug. 8, the now years-long closure of the IB+O trail to snowmobilers due to a failing bridge has had a significant impact on his and other businesses.

Watling said winter is always slow, as cottagers are not around as much, but snowmobiling traditionally supplements their income.

He said co-owner, Lindsay, has estimated they were down more than $140,000 last year, which is “almost crippling to our business.” He said the winter snowmobile conditions were good, so they can attribute it to the trail closure. “Our numbers should have been up, not down.” He said it was so bad, they considered closing last winter and embarking on renovations earlier.

Watling said they are hearing similar stories from other Wilberforce businesses, including the restaurant. “We just simply get bypassed. They choose their rides elsewhere, other trails, other towns, so it’s been significant.”

The businessman added that as a snowmobiler, he gets at least a dozen inquiries every week about what is happening with the failed bridge that forced Highlands East to close the section of trail. He said he does not have any answers for them. He told council some communication or timeline would be welcome.

Jon Cumming, president of the Paudash Trailblazers Snowmobile Club, also spoke to council. He noted his club has more than 1,500 members, comprising ratepayers. He is also on the board of directors for district two of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs.

“I want to impress upon council the importance of resolving the problem prior to this winter,” he said.

“Our purpose here today is to tell you about the impact this has had and to express the hope that we will see increased communication and transparency from Highlands East as this project unfolds.”

He noted the OFSC sells 100,000 trail permits annually, with the industry having an estimated economic impact of more than $3 billion in Ontario. He said snowmobilers use goods and services everywhere they go.

The closure of the bridge, and consequently the trail, means local riders cannot do loops and tourist are cut off from connecting trails.

“The loss of this bridge has created a break in our trail system affecting our club, Haliburton County Snowmobile Association and Buckhorn District Snowmobile Club,” he said. “Wilberforce is a hub, has services like restaurants, groceries, and fuel, and it’s been marooned.” He added the break makes it hard for them to groom the trail system. He noted it is affecting summer users too.

“This process has been ongoing for over two years and we still don’t have a really good sense that anything concrete is going to happen and time is ticking away.

“We are really concerned about the pace of which this project has proceeded and what appears to be large time gaps and occasional sidesteps to move this thing to completion.”

Cumming added with the trails committee being disbanded, it’s hard for people to find out what is going on. He said snowmobile clubs want to help but need information.

Mayor Dave Burton said Highlands East would be hosting a meeting Aug. 22 with user groups.

“We have some quotes, some prices on the bridge … we’ll just get together and we’ll have more answers, probably, for you then,” he said. Burton added his goal is to have the bridge in place by November at the latest.

Public works operations manager, Perry Kelly, added pricing had been submitted by two independent bridge supply companies and both prices had been broken out for comparison pricing. “I’m trying to get this bridge installed and opened up before the freeze up this fall,” he said.

Highlands East hired an engineer to assess the wooden bridge in April 2022. The firm, Greer Galloway, recommended the bridge be shut immediately due to structural issues. The inspectors said it was beyond saving. Councillors unanimously voted to close the bridge.